Welcome to R/V October 2011: The Legal Issue

Welcome to the R/V LEGAL ISSUE! We are beyond thrilled with the response and popularity of last month’s POP CULTURE ISSUE—we’ve been linked, quoted, and shared from NYC to Beirut—and readership has grown to numbers that exceeded even our highest hopes! Most importantly, we are having so much fun conceptualizing and creating a dialogue that appeals to a WIDE RANGE OF FEMINISMS and the issues that affect us both historically and everyday.

At RE/VISIONIST, we strive to encompass feminism in its most complex form and appreciate it for what it truly is: multi-faceted, diverse, frequently political, sometimes superficial, often hostile, at-times humorous, and above all, the good fight.  WE [as feminists] are just as variable and diverse as feminism itself and our readers are no exception. Just as there is no single most-important feminist argument, there is no one-way to write about feminism.

This month brings us to the litigious-side of inequality, or rather, institutionalized racism and sexism. Law is arguably the most powerful vehicle for social change—and that can work both ways. Revisiting monumental Civil Rights cases such as Loving v. Virginia, while celebrating New York’s legalization of gay marriage, can make it even harder to comprehend present-day (yet seemingly archaic) legal battles. Even more upsetting is the actuality that gendered and racial inequality exists WITHIN the legal framework—and that a lot of those serving to preserve “justice” are some of the most bigoted-people out there—making it even harder to know whose side the law is really on.

That being said–R/V is proud to feature a law review from co-Editor, Amanda Seybold! We’re also proud to welcome Brianna Leone and Emma Staffaroni to the R/V family as web-editors and columnists–you can see from the weekly links, this month’s articles, and the gorgeous editorial pics why we’re thrilled to have them!

Sexism, like any inequality, has several faces—from Pat Robertson to Britney Spears. Sometimes, it’s as blatant as pay inequity and other times it is so embedded in our understanding of how things are that we don’t even notice. This is why we have to work to cover as many bases as possible; we have to include—not exclude—to keep fighting the good fight.

 

{. . . and it IS the good fight.}

xx

Caroline

The Legal Issue:

{ENJOY!}

Reproductive Justice: A Timeline by Emma Staffaroni

Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.

Full disclosure: I am 23. That means that up until the last couple of years, most of the fighting for women’s reproductive rights in the United States took place before my time. When I first learned about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case affirming a woman’s right to choose, I was exactly the same age that my mom was in 1973: fifteen. Fifteen is a big age; it is a tempestuous time. It is, in my opinion, a bit too late for a young woman to be learning about the right to choose. Unfortunately, 2003 was right smack in the heart of the “Bush years”, so even though my Connecticut public high school dodged most of the abstinence-only education craziness, our health class still shimmered with overtones of SEX IS DIRTY AND WRONG. My mom and I are thirty years apart, but as fifteen-year-old women we got similar messages from our public education system.

For me in 2003, learning about some court case that legalized abortion thirty years ago might as well have been ancient history. “Cool,” my simple, teenage brain thought. Glad they took care of that! Of course it wouldn’t be until my Women’s Studies classes in college that I’d understand why abortion had been illegal in the first place. Up until around 1930, abortion practices were often crude and dangerous, leading to thousands of deaths. (For that reason, many prominent feminists and suffragists were against the practice – not for any kind of religious reason, but because it was a dirty, scary thing that killed women.) When practices started to improve in the 30s and 40s, mortality rates dropped significantly.  Sure enough, the Supreme Court justices who ruled on Roe in 1973 reasoned that with modern medicine’s advances, legal barriers were no longer appropriate or relevant.

My mom was in college when the Hyde Amendment barred all federal funding for abortions. I was in college when, in the midst of health care reform debates, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) tacked onto the healthcare bill an amendment in their names that would have blocked any federal funds from covering a health plan that includes abortions. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed in the House but was shot down in the Senate. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of an onslaught against women’s choice starting with the mid-term elections in 2010. The parallels of history are uncanny – I can almost hear “The Circle of Life” playing.

For lots of women’s rights activists, the politics of the reproductive justice movement feel like a nauseating merry-go-round – in part because it rests on a paradoxical notion of freedom. Roe v. Wade granted the right to choose based on the Constitutional right to privacy. “Privacy,” of course, gets redefined and circumscribed anew with the changing demands of society, technology, and the state. The 1992 ruling of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a lesson in this; by evoking language of public health, the court created space for state intervention in women’s experience of reproductive freedom and autonomy. The Casey ruling, while affirming the right to an abortion, also created cracks in the foundation through which state regulation and limitation could seep.

But this tension between individual freedom and state intervention is problematic for many feminists because it vilifies the state’s role in protecting women. Indeed, the entire Bill of Rights is about keeping the government’s nose out of the individual’s business. And yet in so many ways, this view of freedom – the hands-off kind – is precisely that which has eroded the welfare state and placed barriers to President Obama’s full vision of universal health care.

Nevertheless, bodily autonomy is the most fundamental and basic of all rights for a woman. It recognizes her personhood and separates her childbearing capacity from any child-rearing imperative. By isolating the act of abortion from its context, i.e. the woman involved, the anti-choice movement “keep[s] women slaves to their biology,” in the words of Ellen Willis. “They do not concede women the right to an active human existence that transcends their reproductive function,” she writes.

Gloria Steinem takes it even further. In an interview in 2004 before Bush was re-elected, Steinem presaged the destructive effects of another four years of right-wing government. When asked about Bush’s evocation of Christian law, Steinem responded that “pro-life” is not really about religion.

I think the deep reasoning here… is to control women’s bodies as the most fundamental means of production. Because unless you control that process, you can’t make the decisions about how many workers a country needs, how many soldiers, what races should reproduce more than others. The ability to control reproduction is one of the two pillars of nationalism. The other is the ability to control territory. I think this goes very deep and really does not have that much to do with religion. …The cloaking of political imperatives in religious language is the problem.

What the right to bodily autonomy ultimately represents, then, is women’s full participation in democracy. If we don’t own our bodies, then we don’t own our lives. It’s as simple as that.

No matter how far we’ve come (or haven’t) it is crucial for women of my generation to know what women of my mother’s generation witnessed firsthand. It is vital that we see the links between the kinds of attacks on women’s autonomy that followed Roe in the late 70s and early 80s, and the rehashed attacks on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers we face today. If we want to prevent the current anti-choice movement from pulling the historical rug out from under us, we need to remember our history and keep fighting for it. We must understand why we have the rights we have, and also why they are still in jeopardy.

So, with a little help from the Historical and Multicultural Encyclopedia of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States, I’ve put together a timeline of some of the cornerstones of the reproductive justice movement since the 1960s. Starting with Griswold v. Connecticut and leading up to the aforementioned Casey ruling, this will hopefully provide a longer-view of the circuitous route of justice for women in this country. If we want current fifteen-year-old young women to, thirty years from now, still hold the same status as women do today, we best know our history.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – This case came about when Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth control clinic. Three days later she was arrested for dispensing contraceptives to a married couple. The Supreme Court invalidated this law by a majority of seven to two, ruling that a constitutional right to privacy protected the right of married couples to use contraceptives. Many amendments in the Constitution created “zones of privacy” that protect one’s home, one’s person, and one’s possessions. These zones would be key for the eventual Roe ruling.

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) – This was the step between Griswold and Roe that further articulated privacy. It affirmed the reproductive autonomy of every individual, married or not. This meant that the individual was to be “free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

Roe vs. Wade (1973) – In this ruling, the Supreme Court stated that the rights recognized in Griswold and Eisenstadt are “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” This decriminalized abortion in all U.S. states. With developments in modern medicine the laws against the procedure, which had been in place to protect women, were no longer necessary. This decision also established the trimester principle.

Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976) – This was the first Supreme Court ruling on a state law that attempted to restrict and discourage abortions in the years after Roe. The restrictions in this law will sound familiar, as many states have rehashed similar and more draconian laws today. Danforth succeeded in defining viability of the fetus as “when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-support systems”; the case also succeeded in requiring abortion providers to keep records for public health officials. Aside from that, the Supreme Court struck down Danforth’s demands that married women must receive the consent of their husbands, which is a term that has held since.

Hyde Amendment (1976)– This amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for abortions. This affects Medicaid recipients, federal employees (1983), disabled women on Medicare (1988), military personnel & Peace Corp volunteers (1979), Native American women (1988), residents in D.C. (1977), and women in federal prisons (1987). There were a few exceptions: when the woman’s life was in danger, when two physicians certified that the woman would suffer long-term damage, and when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. In 1981 this changed to only include exceptions for preserving the woman’s life. In 1993 it expanded to include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Some states fund abortions beyond the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas City v. Ashcroft (1983) – This case reaffirmed the fundamental right for a woman to obtain an abortion but also clarified the boundaries of that right. The Supreme Court ruled against the Missouri statute that all second-trimester abortions had to be performed in a hospital; six out of nine justices found this unconstitutional. However, the Court ruled in favor of Missouri’s other restrictions, including the most highly contested “two-physician rule.” Missouri did not even require two physicians to be present for childbirth, yet this rule was seen as an “accepted medical practice,” so the Court upheld it. A similar setback was the parental consent ruling, which the Court upheld. Minors would be forced to get parental consent unless they could prove maturity and receive a “judicial bypass.” Ashcroft is seen as both a victory and a setback for reproductive rights. It granted a lot of latitude for states to impose restrictions on the abortion process.

Global Gag Rule (1984)- Ronald Reagan instated the Global Gag Rule or “GGR” which denies family planning funds to any foreign NGO that – with its own non-U.S. money – provides legal abortion services and counseling, gives information or referrals about safe abortion, or even takes part in a public debate that improves access to services.  This has been overturned and reinstated, back and forth, between conservative and liberal presidencies. Most recently, Obama overturned the GGR in 2009.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) – Many believed that this would be the case that would overturn Roe, but it did not. Instead the conservative majority in the Supreme Court weakened the ruling but kept it in place. Southeastern Pennsylvania had instated the 24-hour waiting period, as well as the mandated counseling services. For the first time, the Court accepted the notion that the state had an interest in protecting “the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.” This limited the scope of the Roe rights by introducing the “undue burden” standard. Put simply, as long as the state’s intervention does not burden the woman’s right, it is legitimate. (Of course this can be interpreted in myriad ways!) This opened the door for a number of state regulations, most recently the “TRAP” laws or Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers – laws which actively target abortion-providing clinics with regulations that block their funding and force them to jump through hoops.

 {Battles on the horizon} – Since the 2010 mid-term elections, abortion providers in states like South Dakota and Indiana have faced unprecedented opposition. Women in those states may know that their right to an abortion exists at the national level, but it doesn’t seem that way in their own backyards. For an up-to-date and thorough look at the full extent of regulations across the United States today, check out this comprehensive graph. It is organized by type of regulation: from parental consent requirements, to waiting periods, to mandatory counseling and ultrasounds, to blocked insurance funding. These attacks not only degrade women’s basic healthcare access but they also undermine the legal system. As citizens we want to have faith in the courts, but more often than not individuals with power (e.g. conservative governors) get the last word. What’s next for the reproductive justice movement? What will this graph look like thirty years from now?

Some links!!: Mother’s Day stories, a sweet zine, and how to deal with anger

The U.S. Maternal Healthcare Crisis: 14 Numbers You Need to Know
Science & Sensibility: “Mother’s Day is May 8. At Amnesty International USA, we’re honoring mothers by fighting for maternal health — sending Mother’s Day action cards to U.S. and international decision-makers, hosting events and more (sign up at amnestyusa.org/mothersday).  Amnesty is also launching a One-Year Update to our groundbreaking report, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA. From that update, here are 14 numbers you need to know.”

When We Hated Mom
The New York Times: “Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her.”

The Greatest Hits in Contraceptive History
Mother Jones: “Pretty much since the beginning of time, people have looked for ways to control their own fertility—from jumping backward seven times after sex, to using elephant or crocodile dung as suppositories, to drinking mercury and donning reusable condoms. And for just as long, there’s been a veritable crusade against (mostly) women’s efforts to control reproduction. From the book of Genesis to the 21st Olympiad, here are some noteable moments in the war on contraception.”

“The PIC (Prison Industrial Complex) Is…” Zine
Chicago PIC Teaching Collective: “This publication is offered as a gift. The topic is tragic and deadly serious. However those of us who worked collaboratively to create this zine envisioned it as a crie de coeur and as something to be shared. We expect that those who care about issues of justice, equality, and humanity will use it as a teaching tool and as an organizing tool. ”

Anger Management: On Emotion, Oppression, and Being Productive
The Canonball Blog: “What is the correct way to express anger? How can you express your anger and still have productive conversations? How can we support each other in expressing anger? Lorde’s answer: people of privilege need to learn how to listen. “If we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying.”

So Far This Week: Osama’s death, the GOP and rape/abortion, the history of rainbow pride, and more!

Hey hey hello there! I was trying to wait until the end of the week to post links, but all of a sudden this morning I already had so many. Here are some the news bits that have caught my eye so far this week. Enjoy! – Katrina

In Search Of Meaning: Osama Bin Laden and the Dancing Americans
Mondoweiss: “Those of us that know history did not begin on September 11th have been resisting the abrasive, suffocating encroachment of imperialist and reactionary elements on our lives and identities, building up to the present moment of revolution: between Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and the rest of the region, Arabs, Muslim or otherwise, are fighting to end the age of US puppet regimes on their own terms. One cannot help but wonder what “victory” the United States can claim in the murder of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil.”

The GOP’s Stealth Plan to Redefine Rape
Mother Jones: “While they’ve amended their legislation, which faces a floor vote in the House on Wednesday, Republicans haven’t stopped trying to narrow the already small exception under which federal funding for abortions is permissible. They’ve used a sly legislative maneuver to make sure that even though the language of the bill is different, the effect remains the same.”

White House to Host First Ever Trans Meeting
Note: This meeting happened days ago, but I wasn’t able to find any analysis/commentary/news on the meeting itself. But it happened!! 
The Washington Blade: “‘This is the first president who has allowed trans people — really allowed LGBT people — to bring forward problems and then advocate for them,’ Keisling said. ‘In the Bush administration, we couldn’t even do that. They wouldn’t even listen to us. They didn’t care what our problems were. In fact, they were making most of our problems.'”

Detroit’s Financial Martial Law Hits Home for Teen Moms
Colorlines: “Now, with all 5,466 of Detroit’s public school teachers getting laid off, Catherine Ferguson is on a list of schools to be either turned into charter schools, i.e. sold to and remade by a company with its own agenda, or closed. When students got wind of the impending closure plans, they made the decision to protest; community organization BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) lent support, police were called in, and the day went downhill from there.”

Claiming Rainbow Pride
Bilerico: “In this paper, I will provide a historical context for the [rainbow] flag’s creation, as well as critique the rhetoric used when telling this history, searching for what or who it might leave out. Taking South Africa as a case study, I will present some discourses around how certain people are erased from gay and lesbian visibility, space, and politics in Cape Town as a result of intersectional identities and oppressions. My aim is to open a door for discourse that more deeply questions whose history we take up as queer people when accepting the symbols (and politics) handed to us at first ‘outing.'”

Norway is Best Place to Be Mom; U.S. lags
Jezebel: ” A worldwide study shows that the best place to give birth is Norway. … The US ranks 31st out of 164 countries on Save the Children’s Mothers’ Index. Its maternal mortality rate is 1 in 2,100, the highest of any industrialized country (that’s 15 times higher, for instance, than the mortality rate in Greece). Child mortality is also relatively high, with 8 out of 1,000 children dying before the age of five.”

Interview with NARAL Pro-Choice New York

The mission of NARAL Pro-Choice New York is to protect safe, legal abortion and expand the full range of reproductive rights for women regardless of age, race or income. To learn more or get involved, please visit www.prochoiceny.org.

Our editors conducted the following interview with David Benzaquen who is the Political & Legislative Action Coordinator for NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

RE/VISIONIST: What is your relationship with New York’s state legislature?  Do you have many strong allies in Albany?

David Benzaquen: NARAL Pro-Choice New York works to support the election of pro-choice candidates and this helps us build and maintain strong relationships with pro-choice officials. Every year during election season, NARAL Pro-Choice New York endorses a slate of candidates who show their unwavering commitment to reproductive rights issues. We are non-partisan and only endorse candidates who are 100% pro-choice, so we are proud to encourage all of our members to support these candidates and their campaigns in any way they can.

R/V: At the federal level, how would you rate the performance of US Senators and Representatives from New York in terms of their level of pro-choice or anti-choice support?

DB: Senators Gillibrand and Schumer are strong pro-choice allies. We thank Senator Gillibrand, in particular, for her recent strong opposition to anti-choice legislation being advanced by Speaker of the House John Boehner. The Congressional delegation from New York is largely pro-choice and includes some tremendous heroes of women’s rights like Representative Jerrold Nadler. Unfortunately there are also several anti-choice members who are even now trying to defund Planned Parenthood and would allow emergency rooms to deny a woman an abortion even if her life was in imminent danger. Continue reading

Interview with National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is an organization that focuses on abortion access, reproductive health disparities and immigration reform. You can find out more by visiting their website.

Our editors conducted the following interview with Maria Elena Perez, Director of Community Mobilization.


RE/VISIONIST: In what ways does NLIRH specifically address the Latina community?

Maria Elena Perez: The mission of NLIRH is to ensure the fundamental human right to reproductive health and justice for Latinas, their families and their communities through community mobilization, policy advocacy and research. Our priority areas are abortion access, immigration reform, and reproductive health disparities. Within community mobilization, which is the area I oversee, we cultivate the leadership of a diverse group of Latinas across the country through our Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy (LOLA) Trainings, which give birth to our Latina Advocacy Networks (LANs). The LANs organize and engage in grassroots advocacy efforts on both local/state based and national issues that directly impact their communities. And when I say diverse, our base is truly reflective of the diversity within our community with respect to country of origin, language, urban vs. rural communities, class, education, etc.

R/V: Do you strive to build coalitions with other groups that are also organizing for reproductive justice?

MEP: The reproductive justice framework holds as a core tenet the concept of intersectionality, which maintains that reproductive oppression is a result of multiple, intersecting oppressions like racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, etc. To achieve reproductive justice we must therefore, take into account the intersecting social justice issues. So, while we at NLIRH strive to build coalitions with other reproductive health, rights and justice groups, we also prioritize building alliances with Latino/immigrant civil rights groups and other social justice groups to integrate a reproductive justice analysis and agenda into their work. Continue reading